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13 October 2014
Lord Advocate: We need quicker justice

Lord Advocate: We need quicker justice


Human trafficking cases must be brought before courts more quickly, Scotland’s top prosecutor has urged, ahead of a groundbreaking summit in Edinburgh.

In an exclusive interview with Holyrood, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC insisted such cases cannot be dealt with via traditional means.

Later this week, Mulholland will sit down with directors of public prosecutions from the rest of the UK and Ireland to progress how to work more closely together to combat human trafficking.

The summit, which will also involve the National Crime Agency (NCA), Eurojust – the EU body that co-ordinates criminal investigations across EU countries – and various police forces throughout the UK and Ireland, will be the first of its kind.

Mulholland will push for a joint commitment from law enforcement agencies to meet on a regular basis and share more cross-border information.

Ahead of Friday’s summit, to be held at the Scottish Parliament, he acknowledged a need to develop a better strategy of dealing with these cases. 

“In criminal justice in Scotland, you’ve got a charge then people work on the case to prepare it and five, six, whatever months later, it hits the court,” said Mulholland. “In that period of time, half your victims have disappeared, they’ve went elsewhere. It’s very difficult to penetrate the veil of all of this [while] you’ve got accused that will move on.

“You cannot apply traditional means of dealing with cases to this kind of area, so you need to think about how you’re going to deal with it… We need to gear up to be in a position that you need to bring a case to court quickly, a lot quicker than traditionally we’ve brought these cases to court.”

Under solemn procedure, the prosecution must serve an indictment – the detailed charges which the accused has to answer – not less than 29 clear days before the trial diet. Mulholland raises the prospect of exploring, with input from attendees at this week’s summit, the impact moving that forward might have, both in terms of bringing witnesses to court and on the defence.

“Over the years we’ve dealt with what we call tourist trials where you get a victim of shoplifting or robbery on holiday or on a weekend break in Scotland,” he added. “Now you don’t want to disrupt their life by flying them back four months later to give evidence in a trial, so we have, in the past, held a trial on a date before the witness returns home so that it’s very speedy justice at the top end of the scale.

“Now that might be difficult when you’re dealing with human trafficking, but if it’s difficult, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done. We need to talk through these issues and see if there’s a better way in which we can improve things.”

A report published by the NCA last month found that the number of potential victims of human trafficking increased 22 per cent between 2012 and 2013, with 55 identified in Scotland.

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